JAKARTA - Indonesian police are holding 50 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in custody two days after they were found stranded and starving in a faulty boat drifting off Sumatra, a rescue official said on Saturday.
“They were starving and dehydrated, but have since been given food, water and medical attention. They are now in the custody of police in the town of Sikakap,” he said, adding that the asylum-seekers were mostly men.
The boat was found drifting near the Mentawai islands, a popular surfing destination around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the western coast of Sumatra.
It had left Sri Lanka more than two weeks earlier, local rescue official Josafath Roberth Duka told Kompas daily, and its engine had broken down nine days before being discovered by the fishermen.
The discovery happened as Indonesian rescuers scrambled to find 150 asylum-seekers, all believed to be Afghans, whose boat was destroyed some 24 hours before.
Of that group, 54 were rescued, with the assistance of an Australian search team, and are also in the custody of Indonesian authorities. A search team continued to scour the ocean in a rescue boat Saturday to look for remaining victims or bodies, but by the late afternoon, none had been retrieved, Prakoso said.
Australia is facing a steady influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, many of whom run into trouble on rickety vessels in Indonesian waters after fleeing their home countries.